I apologize up front that this is long post, but I want to share all the great information I learned at the James River Writers Conference. *Names of speakers are based on an older schedule and might not have been the people who were there because I don't have the updated schedule with me.*
First off, Wicked was awesome! The setting design, the lighting, the costumes, and of course the actors and singing were all phenomenal. It really made me miss being in theater.
On Thursday, I had two workshops. One was "Getting Past the Slush Pile with Michelle Brower" and the other was "Pitching an Agent with April Eberhardt." Both agents gave some great advice.
In the Getting Past the Slush Pile workshop, I learned some information on query letters including what should be in a query letter.
1. Know who the agent is. Be professional and personal.
2. Grammar/Spelling is important. Learn it.
3. Comparison to what this book is like or where will your book be placed on the shelf.
4. Be clear what the book is about. Show the plot.
5. Tell a little about yourself. Make sure it is relevant information.
6. Write your query like a jacket copy. So study jacket copies. After all, what you put in your query letter could end up on your jacket copy.
The key factor in Getting Past the Slush Pile is doing your research on agents and other books in your genre. Also, an interesting tidbit was Michelle Brower said you should read four times what you write. Four times, people! I think we all need to get to reading more.
In Pitching an Agent, the key is:
Who? – main character
What? – nugget of story; make genre clear; plot
Where? – where does the story take place
Why Should I care? – Why is your story compelling? What is different about your story than others in your genre?
On Friday, we had several sessions. First up was the First Pages with Agents Michelle Brower, April Eberhardt, and Becca Stumpf. The main point from the first pages was to SHOW, don't tell.
After the First Pages, I pitched to Becca Stumpf and received a partial request (first 30 pages).
Then I snuck into The Good, the Bad, and the Sometimes Ugly with Gigi Amateau (Moderator), Mike Albo, Robert Goolrick, and Tayari Jones. I learned that I must force myself to ignore other people and write for myself first. Robert Goolrick also had a great quote, "Just because you're tortured doesn't mean you can't have a great life." Words to live by.
After lunch, I attended O Platform, Where Art Thou? With Kit Wilkinson (Moderator), Randy Freisner, Dave Smitherman, and Arielle Eckstut. Every author should have a platform, or a brand so to speak. It is important more now than ever to have one. When planning your platform think of who your audience is. Know your genre, competition, bloggers, etc. They emphasized devoting time every day to your platform. If you plan a book signing, make it an event. Be active on the web, but you don't have to do every type of social media. Know your strengths. I learned most of all that I should build my reader audience some more, so starting in January, I'm going to have one day a week (most likely Saturday) where I talk about Fantasy, since most of what I write can fall in that genre.
The next session I attended was Twos, Tweens, and Teens and the speakers were Dorothy Suskind (Moderator), Kathi Appelt, Troy Howell, and Meg Medina. I learned to focus on characters first and then focus on audience. Reconnect with the child you were. Kathi Appelt had a wonderful quote of "To write to whatever hole is in your heart." I learned more about picture books, including to keep the pictures in mind because they tell the story too.
The last session for Friday was The New Era of Publishing. Literary agent April Eberhardt was the speaker. This session was perhaps the most enlightening. As authors, we need to decide our goals, be willing to experiment, and that there is no one right way to publish. There are pros and cons to traditional publishing, small press publishing/ebook publishing, and self-publishing. They all require hard work.
These things are important in publishing a book:
1. Write a good book. Make sure the story is good by being a part of writer and critique groups.
2. Edit, edit, and edit. Be sure to do developmental and line edits.
3. Invest in a good cover or create a mock cover to further visualize your work
4. Be prepared to market.
5. Let go of the belief that a real book is traditionally published.
If you are self-publishing, sales in the thousands are good, especially if these sales happen in the first six months to a year.
On Saturday, we started the day with an Interview with Karl Marlantes, who wrote Matterhorn.
Then, I went to Page Turning with Susann Cokal (Moderator), Bell Boggs, John Casey, and Tayari Jones. Tension is where we know something but the character doesn't, example Oedipus. Pacing is the way you handle/control time. They stressed getting the first draft down and then focus on pacing and tension. Pacing often has a rhythm or tempo to it. Reading the story aloud can help with pacing. Pacing is also the rate you reveal information. A key factor to knowing whether or not pacing is off is asking yourself "What have I learned on this page?" If you didn't learn anything, then the pacing is off.
Then I attended The Agent Relationship with Kris Spisak (Moderator), Arielle Eckstut, and Becca Stumpf. For fiction, you need to have a finished product before you submit a query letter. By finished, they mean polished, or publication ready. A writer should find an agent based on what needs the person has, so know your goals. Make sure the person is the right person for you, so do your research. Also, don't submit to agents you lack confidence in. Be prepared to have a platform. Agents are people and book nerds. They do want great books and writers have the true power.
After lunch, I went to the Social Media 201 session with Ricki Schulz (Moderator), Rebecca Schinsky, Zachary Steele, and Dave Smitherman. Not much was mentioned that I didn't already know, but they did say to funnel all your social media to one point, either your blog or website. Also be active. Social media is PR, not sales. And personally I'm considering getting a Tumblr account in the near future, perhaps after NaNoWriMo.
I left after this session so I could get home before dark.
The conference was a great time and I met so many new people. I highly suggest going to a conference by yourself at least once. Seriously. I'm an introvert, but it helped me break out of my shell and talk to people. Writers are nice people. It's great to be around them.
Also, I thought I should mention how opinion has changed in a year's time. Last year, self-publishing seemed taboo and epublishing was barely mentioned, but this year it seemed almost embraced as the future. Times are changing and everyone is paying attention to this new Wild Wild West of Publishing.
It's a great time to be an author.